Thursday, April 03, 2008

Amazon tightens its grip - now dictating to publishers re their own prices !



Chris Work, who posted some comments on one of my earlier posts on this blog, I see from The Bookseller website, has added a form to his blog to contact the Washington State attorney with regard to the Amazon affair. This can be found here. All you have to do is simply copy the text and send it to the email address that Chris provides with any message of your own. I urge everyone involved in this affair to send this form post haste, as like Chris says on his blog, "Amazon isn't going to pay much attention to you or me... but they will listen to anti-trust lawyers of the state of Washington". I don't see that they will have an awful lot of choice in the matter, but then again, I don't know how US law operates, and anything is possible.

The Bookseller it seems though is not the only British heavyweight publishing website to be covering this story, as according to the latest edition of Publishing News, the headlines of which were waiting for me in my inbox when I got home from work today:

"AMAZON HAS THREATENED publishers who sell direct at discount on their own websites with punitive action. PN understands that it has said that if the publisher continues, Amazon will take the selling price as the RRP and apply its terms of trading to that price. In other words, if Amazon receives a 50% discount from Penguin, for example, but Penguin is selling a £20 book for £15 on its website, Amazon will only give Penguin £7.50, rather than £10. One publisher told PN: “This has been around for a while. There have been discussions going on since Frankfurt. Essentially, they're not happy when the manufacturer, as they call us, sets the price of a book. The threat is that they will apply the agreed terms of trading to our web price. But they are on very shaky legal ground. After all, they've been invoiced at an RRP less their discount, so if they refused to pay that amount, they would be in breach of contract.”

Another publisher was more forthright. “Nobody can tell somebody else what price to sell a book at. Publishers will resist this. We're talking about very few titles and we are very confident of our position.”

Although the number of titles being sold direct by publishers is very few, some observers believe Amazon sees it as the thin end of the wedge and wants to fire a warning shot. The move is being driven by Amazon's UK Head of Books, Christopher North, and comes as a blog storm has erupted over Amazon.com's announcement concerning its print-on-demand operation BookSurge. Independent publishers are angered by the US company's decision to economically favour those companies that switch their printing to BookSurge. The row forced Amazon to release an open letter clarifying its position. Amazon.com will sell titles from other POD providers it said, but the publishers would have to join Amazon's Advantage Program, which has a fee. Amazon UK said that are no plans to introduce the service here, but one publisher is taking legal advice. “They're abusing their monopoly position. Once they've got you, they'll start increasing the terms.”

In the background to the moves may be Amazon's realisation that it has effectively dominated online bookselling for some years. Its figures with publishers grow faster than any other retailer (hence publishers' reluctance to anger it), but with other players establishing their online operations - Waterstones.com and, shortly, Borders as well as increasing noise from Play.com and publishers' own sites - it realises that this might very soon change.

This is indeed the thin end of a very long wedge, and I think Clive Keeble is right when he said a few days ago that "Amazon are a dangerous predator that needs to be stopped".

I have a reading booked with my good friend Diana Summer tomorrow, my first for over a year, to discuss various issues regarding work and the book, and I plan to include this as one of the questions. I have my own theories, some of which I have mentioned in previous posts, but it will be interesting indeed to get spirit's take on this.

Angela Hoy says on her latest post, that she suspects the reason that Authorhouse, I-Universe and Lulu caved in was because there is a clause in their contracts (in Authorhouse and I-Universe's case anyway) that says that authors must pay $75 for inclusion on Amazon.com. They have therefore painted themselves into a corner with their own greed, since by failing to sign the Booksurge contract they would have left themselves wide open to being sued by disgruntled authors for breach of contract. I will have to check the Authorhouse UK website, but I believe I am right in saying that they also make a similar charge. Having had dealings with this company when I was looking for a suitable POD provider back in early 2006, I have to say that this would not surprise me, as they seem to charge for pretty much anything they can get away with, and more's the pity, they do ...

Angela goes on to say that "Lulu has third party service providers (that pay Lulu commissions) that offer Amazon listing enhancement services for a fee to Lulu authors. One Lulu author surmised on their forum, "Lulu will just have to supply Amazon with books..." So, perhaps they found themselves in the same bind as AuthorHouse.

The deadline given to some publishers was rumoured to be April 1st and AuthorHouse/ I-Universe and Lulu both announced agreements with Amazon on March 31st - the day before. This leads both Angela and myself to believe that Amazon may have had them both by the probverbial short and curlies. This is what you get though when you charge authors for something that happens automatically without you actually having to do a thing. Make no bones about it, if my publlsher leaves Lightning Source to do all the fulfilment direct with Amazon, then it is exactly the same with all these others too. They are then sitting pretty taking the authors hard earned cash for doing to put it politely, bugger all. I hear the sound of one thousand unseen chickens clucking as they come home to roost ...

Angela also confirms that there is as yet no word from Xlibris, as does my friend UK based author Marion Webb de Sisto, who because she is married to an American and has her largest market there, chose to publish with Xlibris.

I could write much more on this debate if I chose to, but I do have the questions to write for tomorrow, and it has been a long day, and so I am now going to sign off before I email Angela with the links posted on here tonight and hit the snooze button !

1 comment:

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